The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

A shared stage

The performing arts have a new level of prominence at UNCG with the establishment of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

The newly combined school, officially established July 1, gives the university a centerpiece unit for the performing arts and raises the profile of the university's artistic offerings on campus, in the community and in the region.

“All three areas are housed in a unit where what they do is understood from an artistic and academic aspect,” said Dr. John Deal, dean of the combined school.

Plans for the merger were set in motion years ago, as the university worked to expand its research footprint. The administration “didn't want the arts to be ignored because the arts have been traditionally strong on this campus, along with education and nursing,” Deal said.

The newly combined school has five departments: music performance; music education; composition, ethnomusicology, musicology and theory; theatre; and dance. UNCG graduates in music, theatre and dance will now be considered alumni of the combined school. The merger also moves the University Concert/Lecture Series and Aycock Auditorium under the umbrella of the school.

For students in the three performing arts disciplines, very little will change. “It's largely an organizational merger that helps us all work together toward the same goal — heightened awareness and prominence of the arts,” Deal said.

But housing the three areas in the same school opens the possibility of new degree programs down the road. There have been “very preliminary” discussions about the possibility of adding a master's level program in arts administration and a bachelor's degree in musical theatre to the school in the future, Deal said. The possibility of a living-learning community dedicated to the arts has also been discussed.

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Life of Brian
Brian Huskey gets in touch with his inner canine.

Brian Huskey gets in touch with his inner canine.

You've seen Brian Huskey '91. You know, he's the guy in the Toyota Sienna commercials, the one who did the “Swagger Wagon” video that popped up everywhere online a few months ago. Or maybe you might recognize him from the Sonic commercials. For a few years, he did VH1's “Best Week Ever” and “Free Radio.” He's had parts in movies such as “Step Brothers,” “Superbad” and “Land of the Lost” and he performs regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York and LA. Currently, you can catch him as Chet the EMT on “Childrens Hospital” on Adult Swim.

The obvious question first — how did you go from being an English major at UNCG to a comedian working in New York and LA?
I've always wanted to do comedy. When I was in second grade I won a speech contest and my speech was how I wanted to be a comedian when I grew up. When I was in high school I was getting interested in comedy writing. One of my heroes was Woody Allen.

I sort of came at it that way. In retrospect, I wanted to do it so much that I kept doing everything except that. I kept deferring the thing I wanted to do most because I was scared it wouldn't work out.

When I was at UNCG I played in a rock band called Bicycle Face. I put most of my performing energy into that. At a lot of our shows, we would talk as much as we played. Sometimes to the delight of audiences; sometimes it made people mad. That was with Mitchell McGirt and Chris Longworth. I'm still friends with them.

The path that led to getting into comedy … I was a photography minor. I started doing more photography when I graduated, and I eventually went to New York to go to a photo school called the International Center of Photography. Then, through a mutual friend, I was roommates with an actor named Rob Corddry — he was on “The Daily Show,” but at that time he was just a struggling actor. He was in a sketch group and he said, “You're funnier than my entire sketch group. We should perform together.” He kind of gave me the permission I needed to start doing it.

Then we started taking classes at this theater called the Upright Citizens Brigade, which is an improv theater we're still affiliated with. That's where I really dug my heels in and got the experience I wanted.

In our office you're known as the Swagger Wagon guy. How do you feel about that?
(The folks at Toyota Sienna) wanted to drive more traffic to their web page, so they said, “Let's make this funny video and hopefully people will enjoy it.” The whole viral thing — nobody can figure out how that works. I was more surprised by more people who said, “Hey man, you've gone viral.” I was, “I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know if I have a disease …” It felt like it was happening over there, and I get little bits of information about it. It's not hugely affecting my direct life.

Those were done with the director Jody Hill. He's actually a North Carolina native. … I'm a huge fan of his work. It was a huge thrill to be able to work with him.

You've said you don't think working in commercials is your ultimate ambition. What are your ultimate goals?
To do more movie work and to work on a comedy TV show, maybe one that I had a hand in writing or creating. (Right now) Iím working on my friend Rob's show, “Childrens Hospital.” It's nice to have a job where you're not just coming in for one day, playing a character very quickly and then leaving. It's where you kind of sink your teeth into it, the idea of the character, and sustain it. You could also call that job security.

Is comedy part of your everyday life? Are you a funny person?
I guess so. My daughter thinks I'm hilarious. My wife tolerates me. It was more so when I was first starting out at the Upright Citizens Theatre because every day was about generating stuff.

As you get a family, get older, you have to spend a little more time talking about who's going to take the trash out. It's amazing how much physical time and mental time it takes having kids. I feel like I'm getting a little slow in my wit. I think it's because 65 percent of my brain is occupied with who's going to get groceries or if my daughter's lunch is made for preschool, the usual stuff.

What are you working on these days?
Right now I'm in New York on a writing job … for “A Night of Too Many Stars,” a fundraiser for autism that will be on Comedy Central. Me and a few other writers are in a room with poor ventilation trying to come up with ideas for bits for Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon … It's pretty cool.

I'm writing and acting a little bit, “Childrens Hospital,” which is on Adult Swim. It's anything goes. It's really funny. I play Chet, the EMT, who may or may not be a serial killer. He's sweet and down to earth and also super creepy.

I'm writing a couple of things in hopes that something might happen.

What's your favorite kind of acting to do?
I don't know if I have one. I prefer doing comedy. I've done a couple of dramatic things. When I do the dramatic things I feel like I'm fooling a lot of people. Or God, I feel like I'm really schmacting it up here. But when I do comedy, it feels completely comfortable. I feel more real in my choices.

I like the absurdist stuff. If I did sitcom work I'd like something with more of an edge. Definitely darker humor, which is sometimes in conflict with how people perceive me or how I get cast a lot. I get cast as sort of an everyman or a principal or something. I'd love to be a principal that goes off the rails or explodes every so often, in a funny way.

Want to see more of Brian's comedy? Catch some of his videos on or watch for him on The Onion's fake news network “In the Know,” at A TV version of “In the Know” will be coming to IFC (Independent Film Channel).

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Creative ‘Tension’

When the most recent graduates of the art department's MFA program left UNCG, they said good-bye only briefly. They reunited in August — with a group show in New York City.

This exhibition, titled “Tension,” was held at the Christina Ray Gallery in the Soho district.

This group show was an unprecedented event for the department, said Lawrence Jenkens, the new department head.

Lee Walton, assistant professor of art and longtime collaborator with Christina Ray, added, “There is an amazing group of artists coming through our program. They are the real deal.”

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Honoring Fred

Professor emeritus Fred Chappell has received a long list of awards during his writing and teaching career. Now he can add recipient of the 2010 John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, the state's most prestigious public humanities honor, to that list as well.

The John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, given by the North Carolina Humanities Council, recognizes exceptional individuals who have strengthened the educational, cultural and civic life of North Carolinians throughout their careers.

Past Caldwell Laureates include Reynolds Price, Doris Waugh Betts '54x, John Hope Franklin, Emily Herring Wilson '61 and Marsha White Warren.

Chappell taught at UNCG for 40 years, helping to establish the MFA Writing Program. In 1999 UNCG created the Fred Chappell Creative Writing Fellowship. Author of more than two dozen books of poetry, fiction and criticism, Chappell was the Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997-2002 and a North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee in 2006.

Chappell's latest books are “Shadow Box,” a collection of poetry, and “Ancestors and Others,” a volume of new and previously published short stories.

Dr. Hephzibah Roskelly, Linda Carlisle Professor in Women's and Gender Studies, delivered the annual Caldwell Lecture in the Humanities at the award ceremony in October.

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Cushman book image

Alumni Authors

  • “A Million Glittering Catastrophes,” a poetry collection by Martin Arnold '99 MFA
  • “Heart with Joy,” a novel by Steve Cushman '02 MFA
  • “Sandspurs,” by Sharon Joanne Kellam '77
  • “Night Café: The Amorous Notes of a Barista,” by Gray Kochhar-Lindgren '87 MA
  • “Pretty Monsters,” a young adult collection of short stories by Kelly Link '95 MFA
  • “Furnitureland ˜ Glimpses of Sentiment,” a memoir by Candie Gibson Lemaire '72
  • “The Called,” a novel by Warren Rochelle '91 MFA, '97 PhD
  • “Called: The Story of a Mountain Midwife,” a historical novel by Phyllis Irvine Stump '69
  • “Naming the Constellations: New Poems,” by John Thomas York '85 MFA
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The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Location: 1000 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro, NC 27403
Mailing Address: PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
Telephone: 336.334.5000
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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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